A sad story has high-rise ending


Forced out: His heart attack put Joe and Toni Shaney into a condo found by their son. But the adjustment wasn't easy. "I cried for three months," she says.

November 25, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A little more than a year ago, Joe and Toni Shaney were living a happy and comfortable life in a beautiful five-bedroom, 3 1/2 -bath home on Charles Street in Baltimore County.

Joe Shaney tended to the half-acre, while she enjoyed working her garden.

At the time he was 57 and held a position as a computer specialist at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay. She was 53 and working in the guidance office at Dumbarton Middle School.

The plan was to stay in the home for another 10 years, retire and then move into a condominium where they could enjoy their golden years.

It was a good plan. But sometimes life makes other decisions for you.

"I got real sick," he said. In fact, he had a major coronary, and his life changed immediately.

He couldn't work, so he retired.

He couldn't drive, so he was stuck at home.

He couldn't maintain the house, and he felt guilty when Toni Shaney had to shovel snow from the driveway or mow the lawn. A son, Kevin, was away at college, and another son, Jeff, had moved out of the family home several years before.

But Jeff Shaney, now 28, had an idea that he thought would help his parents. While attending college, he had rented a condominium in The Penthouse high-rise in the heart of Towson.

"I heard that there was a unit for sale," Jeff Shaney said. "It was only one of four that had a patio and large floor plan. I knew it would be good for them."

But his parents weren't sure if they were truly ready to leave the home that they loved for 11 years.

Their son, however, was insistent.

"He bugged us and bugged us," his father recalled.

The condo did have some advantages.

"It was in the area that we were thinking of moving to," his mother said, "and it was close to everything."

So the Shaneys took a look at the place. "It was livable. Comfortable. Spacious enough that we wouldn't feel cramped," Joe Shaney said.

"The terrace is what sold me," his wife said.

Still, the move was a major adjustment. A lot of furniture wound up in storage.

"I came here kicking and screaming the whole way," Toni Shaney said. "I cried for three months. I was not happy. I missed my house."

But their son had a plan to turn the condo into a home his mother and father would love. There was nothing truly "wrong" with the condo, but it wasn't a home, Jeff Shaney said.

"It was very ordinary," he said. The condo had plain walls, old wall-to-wall carpeting and seemed trapped in the 1970s, he said.

Fortunately, he could do something about it, because of his part-time experience in interior design work, and he vowed to renovate the place in a few short weeks.

And he would have, too - if he hadn't been forced to go out of town for training in a new job.

After ripping the place apart, including making the kitchen inoperable, Jeff Shaney left town. "I could have killed him," his father said.

"We lived in our bedroom," his mother said. "The only place that had running water was the one bathroom."

Looking at his son and thinking back at the mess that was left, Joe Shaney could only shake his head and say, " `Oh, Jeffrey, what did you do to us?' "

His son could only reply, "I thought I could do it all in a month."

The job took about six months to finish, but the results were remarkable, the couple said. "He did a wonderful job," Joe Shaney said. "Jeffrey had that insight. He could visualize."

"I'm very happy here now," Toni Shaney said. "He kept saying, `Just trust me, Mom.' I'm glad I did."

The renovation work was extensive and cost close to $60,000.

The carpets were removed and the floors redone. The entire unit was rewired. A window discovered behind drywall was put back into use. Built-in bookshelves were added. The dining-room door to the kitchen was closed off and another doorway cut in the wall for a set of French doors.

The kitchen was renovated, with new floors, appliances and cabinetry. A powder room off the kitchen was turned into a pantry.

A hallway off the master bedroom became a dressing area, and the master bath was made handicapped-accessible. The guest bathroom also was updated with new plumbing fixtures. The walls were painted and papered, and decorative crown molding was installed throughout the unit.

Although a terrace garden isn't the same thing as a home garden, it is indeed lovely, Toni Shaney said. And the stunning view from more than 20 floors up can't be beat.

The first six floors of The Penthouse contain offices of doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals. Cafe Troia and a travel agency are on the ground level.

"I like being in the middle of everything," Joe Shaney said. "I can walk to the movies, to restaurants and shops. Sometimes, just for fun, I'll walk over to the [Baltimore County] courthouse and sit in and listen to cases."

The building also has an outdoor pool, a ballroom, a reception area and a fitness room.

And while some people may think that living in a high-rise condominium can be isolating, the Shaneys say that they've made many friends. "Joe's a very social person," Toni Shaney said. "It's very neighborly here."

Joe Shaney often dog sits for neighbors and has taken a part-time job greeting residents and visitors to the building at the reception desk on the seventh floor. "I needed some action," he said.

Although the move was a major change and a huge adjustment, the Shaneys say they are now quite content in their new home. It wasn't what they had originally planned, but it suits them now.

"I told Jeffrey. `Please don't make us move again until it's time to put us in a [retirement] home,' " his father said.

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